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Top French chefs gather to mourn at Robuchon memorial

Former French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin (C) speaks during the memorial service for late renowned French chef Joel Robuchon, at Saint Pierre's cathedral in Poitiers, France on August 17, 2018. MEHDI FEDOUACH / AFP

France’s leading culinary figures, foreign chefs and hundreds of well-wishers attended a memorial service Friday for Joel Robuchon, the world's most-starred Michelin chef who died earlier this month.

The public homage to one of the most famed figures of French gastronomy took place at the Saint-Pierre Cathedral in the western city of Poitiers, nearly two weeks after the 73-year-old passed away from pancreatic cancer. His funeral took place last week in a private setting with his family.

The two-hour ceremony on Friday featured a performance from opera singer Catherine Trottmann, as well as a eulogy by former prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin.

France's most renowned chefs, including Alain Ducasse, Michel Guerard, Guy Savoy and Andre Dutournier, attended in their chef's whites, along with cooks from across the world.

"Joel Robuchon was the essence of the great universal chef," said fellow chef Guerard. "He was also symbol of working with your hands, of artisanal work."

Japanese ties

A delegation of chefs from Japan, a country Robuchon visited often and whose cuisine he admired, also attended the memorial. The late French chef opened three Michelin-starred restaurants in Tokyo.

"As far as I am concerned, he's the only French chef to have mastered soy sauce," Japanese chef Hirohisa Koyama told AFP.

"In Japan, there is more and more demand for French food,” Koyama said, adding it’s largely due to “the Robuchon effect."

Michelin-starred chef Alex Manes, head of Robuchon's Parisian restaurant L'Atelier, told AFP that the cathedral setting for Robuchon's memorial was appropriate for the "very religious" chef.

Stars aligned

His first vocation was the priesthood. But as a young seminarian he discovered a passion for food and went into the restaurant trade at the age of 15.

He preached the merits of “nouvelle cuisine”, which did away with heavy sauces in favour of ultra-fresh vegetables, high-quality ingredients and intricately crafted dishes.

At the height of his career, his eateries boasted a record 32 Michelin stars.

He still had 24 stars at the time of his death, with foodies lining up from Tokyo to Paris to Las Vegas for seats in his restaurants.

Robuchon -- hailed as one of four "chefs of the century" by the prestigious French cuisine guide Gault & Millau in 1990 -- founded a string of restaurants that revolutionised fine dining across three continents with their open kitchens allowing customers to observe chefs in action.

(With AFP)